The Burden of the Homily

RECENTLY A PRIEST—not a fellow monk—lamented how hard he was finding it to “get anything” for a homily from this Sunday’s readings. The first reading covers an attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah, the epistle is from Hebrews reminding us of the cloud of witnesses who urge us on in the race of Christian living, and the gospel shows Jesus revealing he has come to bring fire to the earth and division to society, an awkward gospel for purveyors of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

The priestly lament is a reminder of how much a burden the homily has become to many a hearer, and perhaps even more to many a preacher, in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Mass. This is almost invariably the fruit of a misunderstanding of the homily that has taken on almost dogmatic status: the homily must always and only be about the readings of the day. Continue reading “The Burden of the Homily”

The Pope’s message to the young people of Britain

During his state visit to Britain a few weeks back, the Pope addressed young people of Mass at Westminster Cathedral. The full text of that speech can be found here.

The Holy Father began by reminding young people that we were all made by God to receive love. Pope Benedict is very much the Pope of love: from his first encyclical Deus caritas est (“God is love”), he has consistently looked at matters through the lens of love. It is not romantic love that he is referring to, nor any sentimental niceness or indulgence towards others. Rather he speaks of receiving the love that is God the Trinity, which is itself a community of love so perfect that it makes one God of three Persons. The love that is God is a love that bears fruit in unity among people, and also within an individual, as body and soul live in increasing harmony in living out God’s will.

This means our reception of God’s love must have an impact on our lives, must bear fruit in our conduct. If we are truly to live by God’s will then we must live by his commandments, and Christ himself taught us the greatest commandments, which are a summary of all the others:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

[Matt 22:36-40]

In other words, having received love we are called by God to share that love with those around us. This is not always easy, and indeed it often requires great sacrifice and commitment, as well as the help of God’s grace which we receive abundantly if we ask for it. The Pope told the young people that,

Every day we have to choose to love and this requires help. The help that comes from Christ, from the wisdom found in his Word. And from the grace which he bestows us in the sacraments of his Church. This is the message I want to share with you today. I ask you to look into your hearts, each day, to find the source of all true love. Jesus is always there, quietly waiting for us to be still with him and to hear his voice. Deep within your heart, he is calling you to spend time with him in prayer, but this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline.

Thus prayer is the nourishment of our ability to share God’s love, and so the nourishment of our obedience to God’s will. By means of prayer, especially as empowered by the sacraments, we find the strength to do what we could not hope to do of our own power, and we God’s word addressed to us personally:

It requires time for moments of silence every day. Often it means waiting for the Lord to speak.

Even amidst the business and stress of our daily lives we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God. And in silence that we discover our true self.

Through the discipline of prayer, itself a true commitment to loving God, God our Creator, who made us for his own particular purpose, not only reveals himself to us, but also reveals to us our true identity as persons made in his image and likeness. In discovering who we truly are, we discover also what God is calling us to do with our lives. Here we find the Holy Father’s fundamental point:

And in discovering our true self we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of his Church and the redemption of our world. Heart speaks unto heart. With these words from my heart, dear young friends, I assure you of my prayers for you.

So if you are discerning what God is calling you to do with your lives, the Pope is calling you first to pray, to develop a living and active relationship with the Lord. Intimate and personal knowledge of God is the key to knowledge of yourself and your particular mission in this life. In quoting Blessed John Henry Newman’s motto, heart speaks unto heart (Cor ad cor loquitur), perhaps Pope Benedict is subtly inviting you to place your vocational discernment under the special patronage of the holy cardinal, who wrote so eloquently of each individual’s worth to the world and before God.

Blessed John Henry Newman – pray for us!

P.S. Today is the feast of St Therèse of the Child Jesus.  Perhaps she also is a good patron for those, especially the young, discerning a vocation. She died aged, yet in her short life she managed to develop, through prayer fed by the sacraments,  a profound knowledge of God and fidelity to him in the smallest details of life. Though a nun cloistered in silence, her heart went out in love and concern to the mission lands and to all those who had yet to hear of God and his love for them. It was for this missionary task that she devoted so much of her prayer. As Pope Benedict reminded young people that at the heart of any vocation, central to the basic Christian vocation, is the call to share the knowledge and reality of God’s love for humanity, you might also ask the intercession of St Therèse if you are discerning a vocation, that in the cloister of your heart you might hear the call of God.

St Therèse of the Child Jesus – pray for us!

Newman and Vocation

We will be hearing even more about the Venerable Cardinal Newman Blessed John Henry Newman in the next few months. Already he is familiar to many through his writings, if only through the more famous ones. Some passages are so famous as to approach cliché, and some lose their power when they are quoted out of their full context. One such is Bl John Henry’s meditation on vocation, or personal mission. It is indeed a beautiful passage but read in its fuller context it has an even greater resonance.

So before you read it take note that it is part of a meditation on God as our Creator and thus the object of our hope. Since God has created us, he knows us through and through, knows what is best for us and knows our individual purpose, for it was he who gave it to us and fitted us for it, and so made us a part of his plan for the universe. On the second day of his meditation on this subject, 7 March 1848, he wrote:

God was all-complete, all-blessed in Himself; but it was His will to create a world for His glory. He is Almighty, and might have done all things Himself, but it has been His will to bring about His purposes by the beings He has created. We are all created to His glory—we are created to do His will. I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

O Adonai, O Ruler of Israel, Thou that guidest Joseph like a flock, O Emmanuel, O Sapientia, I give myself to Thee. I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I—more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.

Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!